A peace I’d never experienced before

Siya Kolisi is the first black captain of the Springboks, the South African team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2019. In his recently published autobiography “Rise”, Siya tells how he grew up in Zwide, Port Elizabeth, where he experienced hunger and violence. He said, “I would scream with hunger. It went past being hungry; it was actually painful in your stomach. I would scream to my grandmother and she would get me sugar water and it would settle it down.” Later he was given a scholarship to a white school where he developed his rugby skills and opportunities opened to him.

Siya says this experience growing up in the township had a formative influence on him: “A lot of my values come from being resilient. The people from my community might be poor financially but they are happy, proud and resilient people. When I dropped food parcels off, they didn’t like that. They want to work for what they have. That’s what has taught me never to complain. If someone told me I can’t do it, I would keep on going until I make it. I was living in survival mode when I was young. I’m now trying to teach the people to live in a mentality that they can be whatever they want to be even though the situation around them is hopeless.”

Siya now campaigns against gender-based violence, an issue that scarred his childhood. He says, “At home I’d wake up hearing the screaming of my mum or my aunt, or I’d be walking to school and see someone getting beaten in the middle of the street and no-one doing anything about it because people felt it wasn’t their business. I couldn’t make a difference for my mum or for my aunt. But now I have a voice. I want to be one of the people who makes change. The sport is not who we are, it’s what we do. You have to use your voice where you can because you don’t know whose life you could be saving.”

Siya grew up going to church with his grandmother but later struggled with temptations, sins and lifestyle choices. In 2019, a few months before the Rugby World Cup, he truly gave his life to Jesus Christ and started living according to his way. Something in his personal life, with which he was struggling, was made public. Siya says, “When my sin was exposed, I knew I either had to change my life, or lose everything. I decided to lose my life and find it in Christ. This new life has given me a peace in my heart I’d never experienced before.”